February 11, 2011

With Chhattisgarh's first indoor stadium, Raipur bids to enter the Basketball world

There is one side of India that the world knows well and recognizes. This is the side that features the wide roads and super-fast Metro trains in New Delhi, or the Bollywood stories and the glamour from Mumbai, or the burgeoning IT/BPO spheres in cities like Hyderabad and Bangalore.

But then there is another India, which houses the large majority of the Indian people, and which has overseen a quiet but incredible economical surge. This is Middle India: the bread-basket from where we get our people, our rice, and one of our most valuable produces, Iron.

And a little left to the middle of Middle India is the state of Chhattisgarh. Formed from separation off of Madhya Pradesh 11 years ago, the state of Chhattisgarh has had an accelerated rise in its economical profile. Once the country’s major agricultural processing centre, Chhattisgarh’s capital city of Raipur has now evolved into a commercial hub for coal, power, steel, and aluminum industries. There are hundreds and hundreds of steel rolling mills and iron and steel plants around this growing city.

As a state, Chhattisgarh has also made its mark felt in the sports sector, and especially in the world of Indian basketball. For the past decade since the new state’s Chhattisgarh Pradesh Basketball Association (CGPBA) became affiliated to the Basketball Federation of India (BFI), the state has been basketball’s best kept secret.

The state team is collected, trained, formed, and housed in and around the city of Bhilai: the Bhilai Steel Plant has had a major influence in shaping the face of basketball in the state. But in the state’s capital city of Raipur, though, the step towards basketball seemed a long way away.

But it seems that things have turned a corner for this city: A little more than a week ago, on the 3rd of February, Chhattisgarh’s first indoor stadium, built by the city’s municipal corporation, was inaugurated in Raipur. Within a week, the brand new Budhatalab Indoor Stadium in Raipur was ready to be tested. For the first time, the city of Raipur is playing host to a national level basketball championship, as the 25th IMG-Reliance Federation Cup National Basketball Championship tipped off at the stadium on Feb 10th. For six days, the best teams and players in the country will be competing for this prestigious championship, and they will be competing in Raipur.

“It feels great to finally have a top quality indoor stadium in the state,” said Rajesh Patel, the honorary secretary of the CGPBA and one of the most dedicated coaches and talent scouts in the country, “Chhattisgarh has performed well over the years just by practicing on the outdoor courts. Now with better infrastructure, we hope that it will translate to more success for our teams.”

The new stadium had an inauspicious start: According to Patel planning and work began 15 years ago, but was stalled in the middle due to several complications. A year ago, it was picked up by the city again, and was finally completed in time for this tournament.

Apart from basketball, the stadium also has facilities for other indoor sports like Handball, Volleyball, Table Tennis, and Badminton. It can fit a maximum audience capacity of 5,000.

Earlier, Bhilai had played host to three major basketball nationals, but none of them were Senior events: the Junior championship in 2001, Sub-Junior championship in 2005, and Youth championship in 2008. Patel added that, now equipped with this indoor stadium, the next step would be to bring the Senior National Championship to Chhattisgarh and to Raipur.

“We would also like to hold Indian national team camps here in the future,” Patel added.

And another thing that Patel and the rest of the Chhattisgarh will be hoping is that through these efforts, the city of Raipur, which has so far been a relative stranger to basketball, begins to morph into a city with a healthy basketball culture. “This city still doesn’t have an official basketball coach for this court who will help guide young players,” Patel said, “Of course, there are good basketball players from here who have developed their game in Bhilai and even made it to the national level, but now we need more players to develop from Raipur itself. The talent is here, and so is the infrastructure, all that is needed now is the right kind of guidance.”

After the Federation Cup’s inauguration ceremony on Thursday night, the Chhattisgarh Girls’ team put on a resounding show of confidence in front of the state’s Chief Minister Dr. Raman Singh on their first official game on this new court. Chhattisgarh defeated Tamil Nadu by an easy 30 points, after which the team’s captain Anju Lakra seemed more than happy with the new setting for basketball.

“Early on, we thought that this court was going to be different,” Anju admitted, “But as we got into the flow of the game, we started to enjoy playing there. And since we won the game, the court also won our hearts!”

It might just be the first of many crucial steps, but Chhattisgarh’s basketball fraternity will be hoping that the game can win over the hearts of the city, so that one day the city known for its coal, iron and agriculture will be known for its bouncing rubber balls, too!

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